"Dogs don't just disappear - they are out there somewhere."
THE UK’S leading missing dog organisation has launched a political lobby group in an attempt to get the Government to take seriously the growing problem of dog theft.
The move comes in a response to the Government’s failure to implement a national policy relating to dog theft, which at present leaves each case to be dealt with by individual police forces.
The group has grown out of the high-profile missing dog Internet group DogLost (www.doglost.co.uk) and is called Dog Theft Action or DTA.
DTA is the process of lobbying as many organisations as possible to draw attention to dog theft in its many forms. DTA was set up in the new year by DogLost members Denise Boardman, Margaret Nawrockyi, Brian Milligan and Jayne Hayes to try to bring together the many agencies - the police, dog wardens, RSPCA, local authorities, rescue centres and sanctuaries who are involved in the process of reuniting dogs and owners. DTA want to involve as many of these agencies as possible and encourage them to collate and share information about missing and found dogs nationwide on www.doglost.co.uk.
Co-ordinator Margaret Nawrockyi told OUR DOGS: "DTA are in favour of microchipping and would like to be in a position to reassure dog owners that scanning does take place properly all over the country. We would like vets to scan all new dogs routinely prior to treatment so that the presence of a chip can be identified and cross-referenced with Pet Log. There is evidence that some vets are already performing this service.
"Above all, DTA would like to change police attitudes to dog theft! The police station is often the first point of contact when a dog has been stolen or found. Missing and stolen dogs are logged as stolen property in most police forces. This means that we can only estimate the true figures attached to this distressing crime. We believe that a crime number should be issued and a distinction made between dogs and property.
"We also believe that all stations should have scanners along with the information to register all 'found' dogs immediately. This is vital, as stolen dogs are frequently found miles away from home.
People may live in close proximity to several Local Authorities. Their dog may be found, kennelled, rehomed or destroyed before its owners have had the opportunity to search all potential establishments."
Dog wardens are in the very epicentre of this confusion yet many do not have on line access. DTA believe that all dog wardens should be able to access www.doglost.co.uk - the national database of missing and found dogs. The group also aims to encourage all Local Authorities to make computers and training available to their dog wardens, to thus make their tasks less complicated.
"We would likewise encourage Dog Wardens to collate and post information on the website, to assist their colleagues nationwide," adds Nawrockyi. "It is surprising how little people know about the law where it refers to found dogs. Many people who have had a dog stolen are expected to be comforted by the thought that someone has taken their dog in and is giving it a good home. It is illegal to take in a dog without notifying the police or Dog Wardens. Local authorities have different time limits for rehoming or destroying found dogs so it is vital that information is made available on a national level."
To achieve these aims DTA will be talking to as many organisations as possible in order to draw on their expertise, experience and resources. Their first main public project is to attend Crufts in March to ask the dog owning public to help them in their ongoing campaign. In the meantime, the organisation is currently seeking the support of key MPs and high profile people within the world of dogs to act as advisors and patrons.
Nawrockyi says: "The KC press office have kindly offered us space in the entrance lobby of the NEC, we will be the ones turning blue. I would urge everyone attending Crufts to come over and have a chat with us. We’re going to get the message out there and make the Government and the authorities listen. Dog theft is a growing area of crime. Dogs are not just property, they are members of people’s families, and they are not ‘just dogs’.
"We hear a lot of talk from the major political parties about the need to crackdown on crime. This is an area that needs cracking down on too – and fast!"
DOG THEFT ACTION’S main objective is defined as:
". . . to encourage effective cooperation between the various agencies involved in the reunification of missing/stolen dogs so that information can be made available nationwide."
The DTA’s aims are:
to draw public attention to dog theft in its many forms
to ensure thorough identification of all stray dogs and effective posting of these details for the benefit of all agencies, i.e. effective scanning and posting of photographs/descriptions on appropriate websites which include www.doglost.co.uk
to encourage vets surgeries to scan new clients' dogs routinely
to encourage microchipping on a national scale
to encourage all local authorities to register dogs
to encourage all local authorities to invest in scanning equipment and use appropriately and correctly
to encourage a change in the present procedure of recording missing/stolen dogs by the police i.e. dogs reported as stolen to be logged as such
to ensure public understanding of the law where it refers to stray dogs i.e. when a stray dog is found it must be reported to the dog warden/police
Campaigner knows the pain of dog theft
DTA Co-ordinator Margaret Nawrockyi knows form her own experiences the pain and distress caused by dog theft.
She is a former ESOL tutor (English for Speakers of Other Languages) living in rural North Lincolnshire with her husband and two grown up children who are both at university.
Margaret Nawrockyi tells her own story: "On 9th March 2003 - the day before war was declared on Iraq, I was working in my garden with my husband. It was a beautiful, early spring day and my dog Astrid, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was enjoying this unexpected bit of extended freedom.
"At about 2.30pm I decided to go indoors and called Astrid. When she didn't respond I didn't panic. We looked around our garden and onto the lane. I still wasn't particularly concerned. We live in such a small village it was impossible for her to have walked off the lane without being noticed. Almost all our neighbours were taking advantage of the weather!
"However by nightfall I was frantic! I called at every house in our village and the one adjoining it. Many neighbours joined in the search - I was moved by their concern and support - but despite her microchip, we never saw Astrid again."
Almost two years on. Nawrockyi cannot evaluate the cost of her campaign to find Astrid. She has put up posters, spoken on Radio Humberside, appeared on local TV’s Calendar News , paid for advertising space in the local press besides writing several articles – she even consulted clairvoyants. She also up a dedicated website - www.hopefulastrid.com
Nawriocky continues: "During this campaign I have spoken to many people. People who shudder at the thought of my situation. One gentlemen suggested that dog owners can spend the equivalent of somewhere between £48,000 and £50,000 on their dog during its lifetime when everything - food, medication, time etc is evaluated. I can believe it!
"www.doglost.co.uk gave me direction, motivation and understanding at a time when I needed it most. Living close to four separate local authorities I became aware of the problems faced by many victims of dog theft. I had to contact four different dog wardens, four cleansing departments, four council kennels not to mention numerous police stations and rescue centres. It was a nightmare!
"Setting up the DTA has been a positive step on a very negative journey. I want to make a difference. I don't want the dog owning public to live in fear of losing their beloved pet as I have done - it's a devastating experience.
"I call upon all dog owners to support the DTA by writing to their MPs in the run up to the forthcoming election, asking for a better response to dog theft. There must be millions of us - then the Government, the police, the councils will have to take notice!"